No Lording It Over Others
No Church shall in any way lord it over other Churches, no office-bearer over other office-bearers.
Of the true church we confess that it regards “Jesus Christ as the only head,” Art. 29 B.C. And in Art. 31 of the same confessional form we confess that the ministers of the Word “are all servants of Jesus Christ, the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the Church.”
It is the same confession on which the provision of Art. 74 is based. Already in Articles 17 and 25 we made similar provisions regarding the ministers, as well as regarding the elders and deacons among themselves. In Art. 74 they are all comprised in the one term “office-bearers.” Therein it is expressed at the same time that there are no ranks among the office-bearers, as there are no ranks among the churches. They are all equal and they are all on the same level. The only One standing above that level is the Lord Jesus Christ, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. (Rev. 1: 13)
By the very first synod of the churches in the Netherlands, the one of Em-den, held in 1571, this article (worded somewhat differently) was designated as Art. 1 of what later on would to be called the Church Order. This was done for obvious reasons: many of the recently liberated churches were hesitant to enter into a federation and to cooperate in the convening of a general synod. They feared a new hierarchy. In order to put their minds at ease, the Synod of Emden, 1571 made this provision the first one. Subsequent synods moved it towards the end where we still have it.
After all the remarks in connection with previous articles, especially 17, 25, 29, 30, 37, to mention these only, it will not be necessary to elaborate on the present article at any great length. We would only be repeating things said before, although this is often necessary.
When a church enters into a federation and agrees to abide by the decisions of the broader assemblies, we are to reject all rationalizations that seek to justify a surrender of any portion of the (local) autonomy of the church. When the truly Reformed church polity is being adhered to, we do not need to twist and turn and squirm to find a way between two extremes or to put up safeguards against dangers introduced by the very same reasonings which try to ward them off.
In the heart of every person there is the desire to lord it over others. Office-bearers are not free from such desire. They may not realize it themselves, and be honestly convinced that they seek the best for the church and for the kingdom of God. But even with “the best of intentions” they tend to impose their will upon others, being of the opinion that only the way they chose will lead to the goal, and that only their method is right. We do not
have to assume that consciously they are driven by wrong motives, though yet they may be.
It is beneficial, therefore, that we have an article such as the present one in our Church Order. It constantly reminds the larger churches that they are not more important than their “little sister” that needs financial support. It reminds the ministers, too, that they not only are on the same level as all their fellow ministers, but that their level is the same as that of elders and deacons. No office-bearer is higher than any other office-bearer. They have only one Head and Bishop, the Lord Jesus Christ.
All of our members are to bear this in mind. Too often the opinion is still found among Reformed people that one starts off as a deacon, and then, if one has served well, is “promoted” to the position of elder. In very rare instances one can climb even higher and reach the level of a minister. Such thoughts are to be eradicated, that is, rooted out.
Although we sometimes speak of a “mother church” when a new church is formed by part of its members, this does not give the first church any authority over “its daughter.” As soon as the new church is instituted there are two sister churches, equal in every respect, except most likely in the size of membership. One is your Master, the only head and universal Bishop, the One who bought His Bride, the Lord Jesus Christ.